RED WING, MINN. – Even for a professional baker, what Billy Hanisch is doing ain’t exactly a piece of cake.
The owner of Hanisch Bakery and Coffee Shop in this Mississippi River community is turning out more than 800 graduation cakes free of charge for seniors at area high schools whose commencement celebrations have been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It started with the idea of giving a cake to each of the 220 graduates of Red Wing High School. But as word got around, other area schools wanted cakes for their kids, too.
Parents, business owners, school committees and local residents started sending in donations, and for the past month, Hanisch’s staff of 21 employees has been turning out the cakes as fast as they can make them while still keeping up with all the other baked goods they normally produce.
“To me, it’s humbling, it’s amazing, it’s awesome,” said Hanisch, who started working at the bakery as a Red Wing high schooler and bought it in 2007. “It shows the kids they’re being appreciated, they’re important to their communities.”
The schools getting cakes are on both sides of the river, including Red Wing, Kenyon-Wanamingo, Cannon Falls, Lake City and Blooming Prairie on the Minnesota side and Prescott, Ellsworth and Pepin in Wisconsin. All told, graduates of 12 schools in 14 communities will be enjoying the 7-inch, two-layer cakes that normally sell for $28.
Hanisch is making no profit on the cakes; the donations cover only his cost.
On Thursday, Hanisch headed to Plum City, Wis., with personalized cakes for the high school’s 15 graduates. The cakes were donated by Robin and Jeremy Kannel, owners of Beavs Restaurant and Tavern.
“I’ve kind of followed Billy through the years, and I’m impressed with how he does business,” Robin Kannel said, adding that she wanted to make sure the graduates were properly recognized.
“It’s good to give back,” she said.
Back in Red Wing, Robyn Hanisch, the bakery’s ace decorator, was briskly putting the finishing touches on the iced cakes, setting them on a turntable and adding piping and lettering from brightly colored pastry bags. Just this week, she’s decorated more than 300 cakes; each one takes about 3 minutes.
“It’s been a little chaotic,” she said, brushing back a strand of red hair. “Sometimes I have to slow down — get this right, make sure it’s pretty.
“It’s gotta be special.”
She doesn’t have to worry. Families getting the cakes are thrilled, said Stacy Larson, who came in to pick up the cake for her daughter Alison, a graduate of Cannon Falls High School. The end of the school year has been “very emotional,” Larson said, with her daughter’s softball season and prom both canceled.
“This is a wonderful offering,” she said.